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Quantitative Assessment of the Impact of Physical and Anthropogenic Factors on Vegetation Spatial-Temporal Variation in Northern Tibet

University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
CAS Center for Excellence in Tibetan Plateau Earth Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Beijing 100101, China
State Key Laboratory of Remote Sensing Science, Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
ICube Laboratory, UMR 7357 CNRS-University of Strasbourg, 300 bd Sebastien Brant, CS 10413, F-67412 Illkirch CEDEX, France
Research Network of Global Change Biology, Beijing Institutes of Life Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Remote Sens. 2019, 11(10), 1183;
Received: 7 March 2019 / Revised: 12 May 2019 / Accepted: 14 May 2019 / Published: 18 May 2019
PDF [4503 KB, uploaded 18 May 2019]


The alpine grassland on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau covers an area of about 1/3 of China’s total grassland area and plays a crucial role in regulating grassland ecological functions. Both environmental changes and irrational use of the grassland can result in severe grassland degradation in some areas of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. However, the magnitude and patterns of the physical and anthropogenic factors in driving grassland variation over northern Tibet remain debatable, and the interactive influences among those factors are still unclear. In this study, we employed a geographical detector model to quantify the primary and interactive impacts of both the physical factors (precipitation, temperature, sunshine duration, soil type, elevation, slope, and aspect) and the anthropogenic factors (population density, road density, residential density, grazing density, per capita GDP, and land use type) on vegetation variation from 2000 to 2015 in northern Tibet. Our results show that the vegetation index in northern Tibet significantly decreased from 2000 to 2015. Overall, the stability of vegetation types was sorted as follows: the alpine scrub > the alpine steppe > the alpine meadow. The physical factors, rather than the anthropogenic factors, have been the primary driving factors for vegetation dynamics in northern Tibet. Specifically, meteorological factors best explained the alpine meadow and alpine steppe variation. Precipitation was the key factor that influenced the alpine meadow variation, whereas temperature was the key factor that contributed to the alpine steppe variation. The anthropogenic factors, such as population density, grazing density and per capita GDP, influenced the alpine scrub variation most. The influence of population density is highly similar to that of grazing density, which may provide convenient access to simplify the study of the anthropogenic activities in the Tibet plateau. The interactions between the driving factors had larger effects on vegetation than any single factor. In the alpine meadow, the interaction between precipitation and temperature can explain 44.6% of the vegetation variation. In the alpine scrub, the interaction between temperature and GDP was the highest, accounting for 27.5% of vegetation variation. For the alpine steppe, the interaction between soil type and population density can explain 29.4% of the vegetation variation. The highest value of vegetation degradation occurred in the range of 448–469 mm rainfall in the alpine meadow, 0.61–1.23 people/km2 in the alpine scrub and –0.83–0.15 °C in the alpine steppe, respectively. These findings could contribute to a better understanding of degradation prevention and sustainable development of the alpine grassland ecosystem in northern Tibet. View Full-Text
Keywords: vegetation variation; driving factors; geographical detector model; Qinghai-Tibet Plateau vegetation variation; driving factors; geographical detector model; Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Ran, Q.; Hao, Y.; Xia, A.; Liu, W.; Hu, R.; Cui, X.; Xue, K.; Song, X.; Xu, C.; Ding, B.; Wang, Y. Quantitative Assessment of the Impact of Physical and Anthropogenic Factors on Vegetation Spatial-Temporal Variation in Northern Tibet. Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 1183.

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